RENO, Nev. — Wednesday, the president spoke at an American Legion convention and took time to honor one of Kansas City’s own.
President Donald Trump struck a drastically different tone than the speech he gave the day before in Phoenix and issued a call for national unity, and called over KC native and Medal of Honor recipient Donald Ballard, who the president called a “hero who defines the spirit of service and sacrifice.”
Trump called Ballard over to the podium to deliver a few words.
“There is no greater love than someone that loves this country, and I believe we’ve elected the right leader to lead us out, to drain the swamp,” Ballard said.
Trump then joked that he himself was taking a risk in allowing Ballard to speak, on the chance that Ballard may not be a Trump supporter.
“I’m with you. I’ve been with you before you were elected,” Ballard told Trump as he stepped away from the podium.
“See, that’s very risky of me. That could ruin the whole day for me,” Trump said. “If he got up and said the opposite I would be in trouble. So thank you, Don. That was very risky. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I had a pretty good idea.”
Ballard was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a hospital corpsman in the Vietnam War. Ballard’s Medal of Honor citation says on May 16, 1968, he was tending to wounded Marines while under enemy fire. In the midst of battle, an enemy grenade landed nearby, and Ballard immediately threw himself on the explosive to save his comrades nearby. When the grenade failed to detonate, he continued administering aid to the wounded.
“It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are one people with one home and one great flag,” Trump told veterans at the American Legion convention here.
“We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck or the party of our politics,” he said. “We are defined by our shared humanity — by our citizenship in this magnificent nation, and by the love that fills our hearts.”
It was a dramatic departure from the vitriol Trump unleashed at a campaign rally Tuesday night in Arizona — with the President sticking to his teleprompters Wednesday after ignoring them for at least part of the time Tuesday.
At the Phoenix Convention Center, a freelancing Trump dove deep into the culture war over Confederate statues, which has raged since white supremacists marched and clashed with anti-racist counter-protesters near the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history,” Trump said in Phoenix, in remarks aimed at the “damn dishonest” media and the “weak, weak” political leaders in cities and states who are pulling statues down.
On Wednesday, though, Trump followed his script closely, and all he offered was an aside — “history and culture, so important” — with no direct mention of statues at all.
Trump praised the American Legion for its cultural influence. “You emphasize the need to preserve the nation’s cultural, moral and patriotic values,” he said. “You encourage the observation of patriotic holidays. You stress the need to enforce our laws — including our immigration laws. You teach the responsibilities of citizenship and the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Trump also notably did not attack his intra-party political foes in Nevada — less than 17 hours after he criticized Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, albeit without using their names during the rally.
In Phoenix, Trump made a show of tearing into McCain and Flake while heeding his aides’ pleas that he not mention the two by name.
“Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won’t talk about him,” Trump said of Flake. “Nobody wants me to talk about him — nobody knows who the hell he is.”
In Nevada, though, Trump passed on opportunities to attack two Republicans who at times gummed up the GOP’s push to repeal and replace Obamacare. Instead, he simply thanked Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller for attending the American Legion convention — while praising former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as well.
“He started off saying bad things about me and then he said great things and now I like him,” Trump said of Gates.
In Reno, Trump pointed to veterans as examples of the kind of national pride and unity he says he’s trying to inspire.
“We have no division too deep for us to heal, and there is no enemy too strong for us to overcome. Because in America, we never lose faith. We never forget who we are, and we never stop striving for a better future. Together, we cannot fail. We will not fail. We will make America great again — greater than ever before, I promise.”
After his speech, Trump signed into law a measure that makes it easier for veterans to appeal decisions on disability claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs. A White House spokesman said there are currently 470,000 veterans waiting to hear a decision on their appeal claims.
His message to veterans comes the same week he announced a new plan for the US’ strategy in Afghanistan.
On Monday evening, Trump addressed a military-fatigues-clad audience and said the US would replace the currently enacted time-based approach with a conditional based approach.
Following his speech on Monday, Trump reiterated his commitment to the military when speaking to the crowd of supporters in Phoenix.
“Last night, as you know, I laid out my vision for an honorable and enduring outcome in a very tough place, a place where our country has failed: Afghanistan,” Trump said at Tuesday’s campaign rally. Later adding: “I will tell you, what we’re going to do with our incredible military, they’re going to make unbelievable sacrifices and they’ve already made in some cases the ultimate sacrifice, but we’re fighting for them.”
Also while in Arizona, Trump visited Yuma — where he met with border control and ICE agents.